Definitions

bison

bison

[bahy-suhn, -zuhn]
bison, large hoofed mammal, genus Bison, of the cattle family. Bison have short horns and humped, heavily mantled shoulders that slope downward to the hindquarters. The European bison, or wisent, Bison bonasus, has a less luxuriant mane and beard than the American species, B. bison. The American bison is commonly called buffalo, although true buffalo are African and Asian animals of the same family. B. bison is characterized by a huge, low-slung head and massive hump; its legs are shorter than those of the wisent. Males may reach a shoulder height of over 5 ft (1.5 m), a body length of 9 ft (2.7 m), and a weight of 2,500 lb (1,130 kg). The winter coat of the American bison is dark brown and shaggy; it is shed in spring and replaced by a coat of short, light-brown fur. Bison graze on prairie grasses, migrating south in search of food in the winter. They formerly roamed in vast herds over much of North America, especially on the Great Plains, and were hunted by Native Americans for their flesh and hides. With the arrival of European settlers they were subjected to a wholesale slaughter that resulted in their near extinction. They were killed for their tongues, regarded as a delicacy, and shot for sport from trains. At the beginning of the 19th cent. there were over 60 million bison in North America. By the middle of the century the bison was extinct E of the Mississippi, and by 1900 there remained only two wild herds in North America, one of plains bison in Yellowstone Park, and one of the larger variety, called wood bison, in Canada. Protective laws were passed beginning at the end of the last century, and the bison population has since risen from a few hundred to many thousands, although most bison not on federal lands have been hybridized to some degree with domestic cattle. The wood bison may have vanished as a distinct race through hybridization with the plains bison. Bison are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Artiodactyla, family Bovidae.

See T. McHugh and V. Hobson, The Time of the Buffalo (1972); J. N. Mcdonald, North American Bison (1981); V. Geist, Buffalo Nation (1996).

American bison, or plains buffalo (Bison bison).

Either species (genus Bison) of oxlike bovid with a convex forehead and a pronounced shoulder hump. Its dark brown, coarse hair is especially long on the head, which is held low, and on the neck and shoulders. Both sexes bear heavy, curved horns. A mature bull stands about 6.5 ft (2 m) at the shoulder and weighs more than 1,980 lb (900 kg). Bison live in herds. The American bison (B. bison), commonly called buffalo, was abundant over most of North America when Europeans arrived. Uncontrolled hunting drove it nearly to extinction by 1900, but it has since recovered. The European bison (B. bonasus) is similar and survives only in a few managed herds.

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:This is an article about an animal. For other uses, see Bison (disambiguation).

Bison is a taxonomic group containing six species of large even-toed ungulates within the subfamily Bovinae. Only two of these species still exist: the American bison (B. bison) and the European bison, or wisent (B. bonasus), each with two subspecies.

Name

In American Western culture, the bison is commonly referred to as "buffalo"; however, this is a misnomer: though both bison and buffalo belong to the Bovidae family, the term "buffalo" properly applies only to the Asian water buffalo and African buffalo. The gaur, a large, thick-coated ox found in Asia, is also known as the "Indian bison", although it is in the genus Bos and thus not a true bison.

Description

The American and European bison are the largest terrestrial mammals in North America and Europe. Bison are nomadic grazers and travel in herds, except for the non-dominant bulls, which travel alone or in small groups during most of the year. American bison are known for living in the Great Plains. Both species were hunted close to extinction during the 19th and 20th centuries but have since rebounded, although the European bison is still endangered.

Unlike the Asian water buffalo, bison have never been domesticated, although the American bison is kept on some farms.

Bison are born without their trademark hump and horns and live for approximately twenty years. They grow to maturity at two to three years, although males continue to grow until about their seventh year. Adult bulls express a high degree of dominance competitiveness during mating season. Male bison fight for females and these fights often result in injury or death. After the bison mate, the herd splits up into smaller herds. Calves are born nine months after mating. The mothers take care of and nurse their young for a year.

Male bison grow to as much as to 11.5 feet (3.5m) long, and 6.5 feet (2m) tall at the shoulder and can weigh up to 2200lbs (998 kg).

Behaviour

Wallowing

Wallowing is a common behavior of bison. A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, either wet or dry. Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with mud or dust. Possible explanations suggested for wallowing behavior include grooming behavior associated with moulting, male-male interaction (typically rutting behavior), social behavior for group cohesion, play behavior, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects, reduction of ectoparasite load (ticks and lice), and thermoregulation. In the process of wallowing bison may become infected by the fatal disease anthrax, which may occur naturally in the soil.

Diet

Bison have a fairly simple diet. The bison's main food is grass. Bison also eat the low lying shrubbery that is available. In the winter, bison forage in the snow looking for grass. If there is little grass available, bison have to resort to eating the twigs of the shrubs and plants.

Predators

Due to their large size few predators attack bison. Wolf packs, but not single wolves, could take down a bison. Brown bears will also prey on calves but when they are found eating bison they generally have driven off wolves and taken over their kill.

In Yellowstone Park the strongest and most dominant wolf packs have been observed to take elk and deer; they leave the bison, which is much harder to kill, to the weaker wolf packs.

See also

Gallery

References

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